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By Michael Doob

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We have new tools such as the scanning tunnelling microscope (STM) and the atomic force microscope (AFM) that allow us to examine and manipulate matter on the nanoscale. And, we have new nanostructured materials such as the carbon nanotube that promise to revolutionize materials science. But, researchers in nanotechnology have come to realize that for all of the progress we’ve made, we still rely on “top-down” construction methods. When Eigler and Schweizer [37] famously wrote the letters “IBM” on a layer of nickel using individual xenon atoms, a true tour-de-force in nanoscale engineering, they still used a fundamentally primitive and decidedly unbiological technology.

4: A water strider walking on the surface of a pond. Note the meniscus formed near the feet of the bug. com/Sean Lowe. the shape of this meniscus. 5. That is, we’ll assume we have a semi-infinite bath of fluid in contact with a wall. The wall itself is taken to be infinite in the z-direction so that the shape of the meniscus is only a function of x. The energy, E, of this system is E[u(x)] = Surface Energy + Gravitational Energy. The surface energy is proportional to the change in surface area and may be written in terms of the interface shape u(x) as ∞ σ 0 1 + u 2 dx − A .

Nanotechnologists are attempting to replicate nature’s ability to make useful machines, such as the ribosome, on the nanometer scale. The possibility that humans could build nanoscale machines was first recognized by Richard P. Feynman and discussed in a famous lecture at the 1959 annual meeting of the American Physical Society. In a passage on biology, Feynman captured much of what excites self-assembly researchers today: The biological example of writing information on a small scale has inspired me to think of something that should be possible.

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